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Council Oks 6.6 percent increase to property tax

May 02, 2001

Council Oks 6.6 percent increase to property tax



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's tight budget sparked tension among council members Tuesday, as councilmen Alfred W. Boyer and J. Wallace McClure asked for additional budget cuts, and Councilman Lewis C. Metzner challenged them on specifics.

More cuts to the city's 2001-2002 budget could further offset an expected tax increase.

Also Tuesday, the council gave preliminary approval to a property tax increase that was less than expected. The council voted 4-1 for a roughly 6.6 percent tax increase for the year beginning July 1. A 10.5 percent tax increase was proposed in the budget first submitted to the council a month ago.

The council had been scheduled to vote on the 10.5 percent tax increase Tuesday, then cast a final vote on a lesser tax increase later.

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A final vote on the tax rate, and the overall budget, is planned for May 22.

The City Charter requires two council votes to set the tax rate. The first vote was done Tuesday so the current council will have time to give final approval to the tax rate before a new council takes office May 28.

Over the past month, the council has trimmed almost $480,000 from the budget.

The council endorsed a property tax rate of 73.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current tax rate is 69.2 cents. That 6.6 percent tax increase would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 home an extra $46.

Councilman McClure voted against a tax increase. He said city department managers should analyze their budgets to find items they don't absolutely need this year. McClure also cast the lone vote Tuesday against the proposed $74.8 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Metzner said council members who vote against a tax increase should find ways to cut the budget.

He said it was a "cheap shot" to vote against a tax increase and not say how to make any cuts in the budget.

Boyer said the council needs to look at cutting personnel.

Metzner asked Boyer what positions he would cut.

"I can't answer that," Boyer said, but he said there has been talk of eliminating one of the two captain positions in the police force, or cutting back on the city's vehicle maintenance staff.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said excluding police and firefighters, the city has the same number of employees it did five years ago and "they're doing more work today than they did five years ago."

In other votes Tuesday, the council gave preliminary approval to increasing water rates 3.5 percent; raising sewer rates 3 percent; increasing the trash collection fee $4 a year; and creating a new fire service charge.

A Hagerstown firefighter and Community Rescue Service representative were the only people to testify on the budget or tax increase.

Firefighter Andy Hartman said he supported a tax increase to help pay for additional firefighters. CRS interim-Director J. Michael Nye said the council should give CRS more than the $50,000 that is in the proposed budget.

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